// Internet Duct Tape

Free WP Plugin Idea: Use Referrers Instead of Trackbacks

Posted in Free Ideas, Technology, The War on Spam, WordPress by engtech on March 19, 2008

Free Ideas

Blogs have a way of keeping track of who is linking to them using trackbacks or pingbacks. It’s a good idea in theory because it helps you follow the discussion as it spreads to new areas, but in practice it is mostly filled with spam because getting a well-placed trackback on a popular website can be a good source of traffic.

Trackbacks were designed without any kind of authentication mechanism whatsoever, not even the most trivial test that the person who is says they are linking to you really is linking to you. So screw spammy trackbacks. Screw them in their naughty place. Take them out of your blog themes and blog engines and let’s build something better.

Here’s the idea: instead of showing a list of trackbacks for spammers to abuse, show a list of referrers.


Yes, referrers are spammed just as much as trackbacks. You can use a javascript/image mechanism to track referrer stats to verify that it isn’t a bot. You will still have to use some kind of blacklist of known bad referrers (the same way you have to do with trackbacks).

Now you have a plugin that collects data on non-spammy referrers, and THAT’S what you use instead of your trackback list. You order the referrers based on the amount of traffic they’ve sent you in a recent time period. You probably want to ignore search engines from the list. But you probably want to include social bookmarking sites.

This would destroy the “first post” trackback spam race because unlike trackbacks, no one is going to show up in the list unless they’re sending you traffic. It’ll also support sites that don’t bother with trackbacks (anything built after 2006) as long as they’re sending traffic.

As a blog visitor I’d love to come to a webpage and instead of seeing a useless trackback to some splog find that 1246 people have visited from StumbleUpon, 453 from Lifehacker, and 47 from the homepage of WordPress.com. It would tell me so much more about who finds this interesting, where to go to find more “off the blog” discussion, and other sites that have related content.

As a blog creator I’d love seeing that kind of per post referrer information captured somewhere.

This isn’t a revolutionary idea by any means, so I’m fully expecting the lazyweb to either correct me as to why this doesn’t work or point me in the direction of a plugin that already does this.

15 Responses

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  1. Glenn said, on March 19, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Technorati has a Link Count widget that you can place on your posts: http://www.technorati.com/tools/linkcount/ That sort of does what you’re after doesn’t it? I think they try & filter out spam too, not sure how accurate that is though

  2. engtech said, on March 19, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    @ Glenn:

    Thanks, I’d forgotten about that Technorati widget. They’re better at handling spam than trackbacks, but they’ve still got their fair share of spam.

  3. Voyagerfan5761 said, on March 19, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    You say anything built after 2006 doesn’t bother with trackbacks. Apparently that holds true, at least for Google. When they re-did the Blogger engine in 2006, they neglected to include support for either sending or receiving trackbacks. Sometimes it annoys me, because my site won’t show up in the trackback list for posts I link to. The “backlinks” Blogger does support are based on Google Blog Search, and aren’t always accurate or complete.

  4. engtech said, on March 19, 2008 at 10:10 pm

    @ Voyagerfan5761:

    Yeah, it’s a big ball of mess. What I find most interesting about the referrer idea is that it would automatically create backlinks to the sites that all have given up on trackbacks.

    The Gawker blog network is pretty big, but I only find out they’ve linked to me because of the trackbacks from the splogs who are scraping their content. They real site might be sending me a couple of hundred hits traffic wise, but it’s only the splogs that show up on the trackbacks.

  5. Andy Beard said, on March 19, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    You mean something like Kramer plugin

    http://dev.wp-plugins.org/wiki/Kramer

    You would love the referrer spam from different SU and Delicious profiles in places it is used.

  6. [...] Free WP Plugin Idea: Use Referrers Instead of Trackbacks :: Internet Duct Tape – I think something like this might have merit – How about you guys at Disqus would that be easier to deal with than trackbacks? [...]

  7. Assaf said, on March 19, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Referer is an HTTP header voluntarily sent by the client when it follows a link. In other words, easy to fake by sending a request with a referrer header, without sending traffic your way.

    Search engines don’t send referrers, but searches do. Unfortunately, at least on my blog, the highest ranking referrers from Google are useless to my readers. Number one right now is for ‘magnifying glass’.

    Watching 453 incomings from Lifehacker is helpful to some, still some of my best discoveries come from new voices, and new voices send you maybe a handful of referrers, and sometimes not at all. They might only show up in a trackback or Google/Technorati inbound link search.

    Using JavaScript/images is different from referrer, that trick attempts to dismiss bots and only track browsers. It works, except that it will miss a portion of your browser traffic. I ran a comparison between Google Analytics (JavaScript) and my server’s stats (all hits), and you definitely miss some of those incomings.

    I think it’s a good idea to show referrers alongside the post, and go through JavaScript to reduce spam, and would definitely consider using something like that. But I’m not ready to give up on trackbacks or comments. I can also tell you spammers focus on those because they get more visibility, but change the focus and they’ll change their bots, so I wouldn’t consider it spam blocking, just an added source of valuable information.

  8. engtech said, on March 20, 2008 at 12:34 am

    @ Andy Beard:

    Looks like kramer is DOA. The author’s site is a domain squatter now. It also has the same limitation of only using technorati as a source.

    That’s a good idea about taking the technorati links and generating pingback/trackbacks.

  9. engtech said, on March 20, 2008 at 12:39 am

    @ Assaf:

    Thanks for the detailed response, Assaf. I like stealing the idea of the Kramer plugin Andy mentioned.

    - you use the image/javascript trick to avoid bots
    - you build a trackback based on the image/javascript referrers (like Kramer did with Technorati links)
    - because it’s a pingback/trackback it’ll hit Akismet and you can use the regular blog comment panel to mark it as spam if it is.
    - you might need a hack to pass the originating IP address of the referrer to the trackback to prevent Akismet from thinking the spam comes from your server. Not sure how that works.

    It’d be neat if you could add some meta info to the trackbacks with the traffics stats to make a referrer tag cloud or some such.

  10. Assaf said, on March 20, 2008 at 1:42 am

    Keep in mind that you’re losing context. If this was a trackback, you could see who it’s coming from and also what they’re saying about you, which for me makes a difference deciding whether or not to follow that link.

    Can be solved by going to the source and scraping a portion of the text surrounding the link and injecting that into the trackback.

    So what you’ll get are implicit trackbacks from visitors hitting your post, without using the spam-prone protocol, and supporting sources that don’t send trackbacks (and many don’t).

    Separately, I’m sure you can extend the WP database to add a counter and increment each time a referrer arrives, that way you can show inbound traffic next to each link.

    To paraphrase some telecom company, “you get more bars from more places”.

  11. HelloKit said, on March 20, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Whether a site is actually linking to you and whether they are sending you traffic are two very different things. My blog has a very small readership, but I try to grow those numbers by participating in discussions and using trackbacks to let the readers of other blogs know that I exist. Of course, when I send a trackback, I always have a link. But if the few readers I have aren’t interested in the subject matter, then they may not click the link. Thus, I wouldn’t be generating any traffic to the blog I linked to, and therefore would not show up under the system you propose. Why punish me for having a small audience, when the very purpose of trackback is to help that audience grow?

  12. nicolleshanman said, on March 20, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Ok, I am familiar overall with basic searches,tags, etc., however my question will sound very simple, please bear with me. How do you generate a trackback?

  13. engtech said, on March 24, 2008 at 11:54 am

    @ nicolleshanman:

    If you’re using WordPress then you generate trackbacks automatically.

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  15. optiptpaf said, on September 30, 2008 at 4:54 am

    nice post i haave RSS’d you, please update more often

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